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Fanfiction SRB: Cruel Dragon's Thesis

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by BZRich64, Jun 7, 2024 at 8:16 AM.

  1. BZRich64

    BZRich64 The Mustachiod Machamp

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    Cruel Dragon's Thesis
    A Super Ridley Bros Story

    CW: Moderate Violence, Mature Themes​

    Previously on Super Ridley Bros: Symphony of Luigi:

    With that task done, Death left through the wall and floated to the hotel roof, overlooking the city. Now that he was finally finished with that task, it was time to decide what to do next. He wasn’t in any particular rush. As a manifestation of a primal force of nature, he was not tethered to any one location or manifestation, after all. A part of him existed wherever a life reached its conclusion to shepherd the soul into the next world, regardless of any conscious thought on his part. However, when something particular caught his interest, he could make that particular ‘him’ become his primary vessel. And as it happened, it seemed that one of his other pet projects was coming to fruition as well. In another instant, he was in yet another world.

    Hyrule, a realm between the material and magical, where one of his favorite people had just met an untimely end. Again.

    “Hello, Link.”

    Link plunged his sword into the demon’s chest with all of his strength, the enchanted blade finally piercing through his ashen flesh. The jagged sword clutched in the demon’s right hand fell to the ground as his fiery hair dimmed. One last bolt of lightning flashed in the distance as the heavy rain drowned out the young man’s tears. He waited there for a moment twisting the blade in the wound before finally jumping off of his final foe.

    He had put everything he had into the last few days to the point of utter exhaustion. He could feel the divine magic of his weapon, the recently forged Master Sword, pumping into him, lending him strength. It was likely the only thing keeping him going at this point. He was just so, so tired. But finally, after so long, he’d finally slain the demon king, Demise. Or at least, that’s what he thought for a brief moment.

    Demise stood up, clutching at the glowing wound in his chest. He was clearly in pain but still very much alive. What did it take to kill this stupid thing? The demon stumbled forward, lifting his sword over his head, and Link prepared himself for another round of battle. He wasn’t sure how much more of this his body could take but he was determined to last as long as he could. He was a lot of things but, more than anything, he was a survivor.

    Then Demise jabbed the tip of his blade into the watery expanse that spread out where the ground should have been and the sword dissolved in a puff of blade smoke. The demon stared at his hand, panting heavily before turning his gaze to Link. He looked about as worn out as Link felt at the moment.

    “Extraordinary,” Demise’s deep voice rumbled. “You stand as a paragon of your kind, human. You fight like no man or demon I have ever known. Though, this is not the end. My hate… never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end! As long as this land exists, I will rise again! Those like you… Those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero… They are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever haunt this land, dooming your kind to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness until the end of this world!”

    Link watched as Demise faded out of existence, laughing maniacally until there was nothing left of the demon but ash. The storms parted and Link found himself surrounded by clear skies and bright blue water in this seemingly endless voice. Feeling the spirit of the Master Sword call out to him, he raised the sword skyward and it absorbed the ashen cloud that was Demise’s remains into itself.

    “I have confirmed the eradication of the demon king,” Fi, the spirit of the sword, announced. “His residual consciousness has been absorbed into the Master Sword and is now sealed away.”

    And with that, Link’s strength finally gave out and he passed out. When he awoke, he found himself in the ancient structure of the Temple of Time, Impa standing above him.

    “You have done well, Link,” the Sheikah warrior said before motioning for him to turn around.

    Link slowly sat up and turned to see the familiar faces of Zelda and Groose. His best friend for as long as he could remember, and the guy who was finally learning not to be such a butthole all the time.

    “Link, thank you,” Zelda hurried over to him and grabbed his arm, helping to pull Link to his feet as tears streaked down her face. “I think it’s all over. Finally, it’s all over.”

    She let go of him again to bury her face in her hands as she broke down crying. Link put his arm around her to comfort the crying girl while Groose walked over and patted them both hard on the shoulders.

    “Nice going, you two,” he said. “You guys were totally amazing in this little adventure that I like to call the Legend of Groose.”

    Zelda’s sobs turned to laughter and even Link managed to crack a smile at what he hoped was just a joke.

    “Aw, well, you know, just glad that I could make myself useful.” Groose turned away from them and walked over to where Impa was still standing silently. “I’m happy that things turned out okay.”

    Link and Zelda both walked after him, propping each other up. Groose turned back to them as they drew close.

    “Hey, so things look pretty sewn up here. What do you guys say, are you ready to head back to our own time?”

    Link had half-forgotten that they weren’t in their own era of history at the moment. No, they had been sent far into the distant past to wrap up this crazy adventure of theirs. As it happened, they weren’t quite ready to return yet, though. He still had to leave the Master Sword here in this era so that it could be purged of Demise’s remains, and say goodbye to Fi in the process. Then the three of them had to give their final goodbyes to Impa as well before she could send them back to their own time. It was one emotional moment after the next but eventually, they stepped through the Gate of Time one last time.

    And from there, they had the entire rest of their lives ahead of them.

    * C * D * T *​

    Over seventy years later, Link lay on his deathbed. He’d lived a good life, as shown by the large crowd of friends and family gathered around him as his final breath drew near. Children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. He knew that they would all miss him once he was gone but there was nothing that he could do about that. It was time for him to finally be reunited with his beloved wife Zelda.

    Closing his eyes for one final time, a ragged breath escaped his lunges and it was done. Link had often wondered what it would be like to take that final step into the beyond. It was much more peaceful than he would have thought. He would have hardly noticed that it had happened if it weren't for the pains and fatigue of old age melting away in an instant, and he opened his eyes again to see that he, or rather his spirit, was floating gently over his body. As those who were gathered around him started to realize that he had passed, Link looked up to see a cloaked and hooded stalfos slowly approaching, a large scythe clutched in its bony hands. The people of Skyloft, now the people of the land that would soon be known as Hyrule, did not have a concept of the Grim Reaper as humans of Earth did, yet he still recognized the specter of Death like an old friend come to greet him.

    Deaths: 1

    “Link, son of Raven and Columbi,” Death said.

    “Were those my parent's names?” Link asked. He’d never known his parents. He’d been found on the doorstep of the Knight's Academy as a baby and was presumed an orphan, being raised by the faculty for as long as he could remember. It was a major reason why he’d ended up so close to Zelda, the headmaster’s daughter.

    “Indeed,” Death replied. “Though your father passed before you were born and your mother soon after. Both victims of the plague that ravaged Skyloft at the time.”

    Link nodded. He’d long suspected as much.

    “They’ve been waiting to finally meet you,” Death continued. “Very patiently, I might add. They weren't exactly in a hurry for their only son to pass on before his time. Plenty of others as well. It seems that you’ve made quite the impression on many now-parted souls, and many still in their mortal phases. Truly the mark of a life well lived.”

    “Thank you,” Link nodded, unsure of what else to do but to take the compliment as given. “But I wasn't anything special. Just a guy trying to do what's right.”

    “Hm, I wonder,” Death mused, and Link could have sworn that he somehow saw a smirk cross his skeletal face. “Regardless, your time has come and I am here to bring you to your next life. Best not to keep everyone waiting, is it not?”

    “Of course,” Link agreed. “So, how does this work?”

    “First, I must sever your spirit from the body. This will reduce you to a form that I can transport across the veil into the great beyond, where you will be reconstituted in the form you will take for the rest of your afterlife.” Death held up his scythe, ready to swing. “This won't hurt at all.”

    Link spread his arms out wide and braced himself as the blade passed through him. However, it didn't seem as if anything had happened.

    “Hm, that's odd.” Death took a moment to scratch his chin before giving it another go. Still, nothing happened. A third swing proved just as ineffective. “This can't be right.”

    Link watched as Death set down his scythe and pulled out a sheet of paper. He looked it over from top to bottom and then checked it again.

    “Hm, everything seems to be in order, so I'm not sure why you're not…” Death trailed off as he finally seemed to notice something. “Hold a moment, I need to check something.”

    With a snap of his finger bones, Death vanished and Link was alone. Well, not quite alone. Those gathered for his death were still there, preparing to take away his body for the funeral to be held soon. Before he had a chance to consider how macabre that sight was, Death rematerialized in front of him.

    “I have bad news,” Death said, holding up a new form, different from the one from before.

    “Well, what is it?” Link asked, more than curious about what could possibly be preventing him from moving on.

    “It seems that you've been cursed with reincarnation,” Death explained. “You cannot move on to the afterlife because your spirit is still bound to this world, you will be reborn time and again until the conditions of the curse are met.”

    Link struggled to remember when something like that could have happened. He quickly came back to that day that he tried so hard to forget. The day he fought a demon.

    “Demise…” he trailed off as he remembered that fateful day.

    “Indeed,” Death confirmed. “Per the terms of his dying curse, a fragment of his soul tied to his hatred is to be reincarnated continuously for as long as the land currently known as Hyrule exists and, as long as he continues to reincarnate other those terms, so will you.”

    “Well, I’m sure that won’t be too bad, right?” Link asked hopefully. “And I’ll have Zelda there beside me.”

    “Not quite.” Death shook his head. “I’m afraid that Demise’s exact words were ‘the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero’. The spirit of the hero is you, Link, to be reincarnated endlessly for the rest of Hyrule’s history. The blood of the goddess refers not to Hylia’s mortal reincarnation, your late wife Zelda, but to her family line. Normally, these kinds of curses prioritize the firstborn child, which in this case would be through your son Gaepora II. On the plus side, as a side effect of this curse, you can now be assured that your bloodline will stand the test of time for as long as this planet remains intact. Unless the curse decides to take a twist and go through Zelda’s daughter, Branta, instead.”

    “What, why would that make a difference? Branta is my daughter, too.” Link turned to his daughter with a look of concern. Her strawberry-blonde hair was turning grey with age but otherwise, she was the spitting image of her mother. Apart from her jawline, which had always reminded him of… “No…”

    Death nodded quietly. “The girl’s father was your old friend Groose. Though, perhaps he wasn’t as much of your friend as you thought?”

    If Link still had a body, he would have had to sit down. As it was, he simply continued to float there lamely as he tried to rationalize what he’d just learned. “I’m… I’m sure that it was just a mistake. We all do things that we regret, sometimes. I shouldn’t think less of either of them for something that must have just happened in the heat of the moment.”

    “Believe what you will, it makes no difference either way. Regardless, it seems that you will now have to be reincarnated until the curse of Demise is broken, which will not happen ‘until the end of this world’. And I can tell you from experience that worlds take a very, very long time to end.”

    Link let out a sigh. He had so many questions and yet the person he most wanted to ask them was out of his grip. “Fine, I’ll do this as long as it takes.”

    “We’ll see how long that attitude lasts.” Death shook his head and held out his hand. “Now, come. It is time for me to take you to your new parents. There’s a couple settled on the outskirts of the Faron Woods right now who are about to conceive your next life. I’d say that we need to hurry, but... they’ll be at it for a few hours. Perhaps you’d like to chat on the way over there? We’ll be seeing a lot of each other over the next eternity, after all.”

    Link drooped his head. It didn’t seem that he was going to have much of a choice on the matter. A difficult path was before him but he knew that he’d make it through. Link was a lot of things but, more than anything, he was a survivor.

    * C * D * T *​

    Construction of the grand Hyrule Castle was progressing smoothly. A mighty palace, the symbol of the fledgling kingdom. Link looked up at the white stone structure with awe, as he did every morning he came here. He wasn’t involved with the construction efforts, though. He was just a humble gardener who was helping to arrange the flowerbeds and trees planted around the castle. Today, he was going to be working on the inner courtyard, which was exciting. This would be his first time getting to see the castle from the inside. Making sure that the belt with all of his tools was firmly in place, he marched through the front gate along with the other gardeners.

    “Hey, look out!”

    Link looked up just in time to see one of the bricklayers working on the archway above the entrance drop what they were working on. The hunk of stone fell and, before he even had a chance to move out of the way, Link found himself on the ground while the others gathered around him.

    “Well, hello again.”

    Deaths: 7

    “Well, that was a short one,” Link grumbled as his spirit rose from his body. “Who would have thought that my first peaceful life would be the one where I die young?”

    “Oh, you’d be surprised,” Death said. “Accidents can happen at any time. But I’m sure that you’ll get familiar with that.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Link stared at the old green cap sitting on a display on his dresser. It was hard to believe that it had already been over sixty years since his adventures with Ezlo. It felt like just yesterday that they had traveled together to stop the evil wind mage Vaati from taking over Hyrule.

    “Are you coming to bed?” his wife and the love of his life, Queen Zelda, asked. No matter how much time passed, she only ever grew more beautiful with age in his eyes.

    “Of course, my dear,” Link called back, ignoring the growing pain in his left arm. “Just remembering old times.”

    “I still remember when I won that old shield for you,” Zelda replied as Link walked over to her, looking at the small wooden prize set up next to the hat. “Life was much simpler back then.”

    “Never would have imagined that a lowly blacksmith like me would have ended up King consort,” Link chuckled as he slid under the sheets. There seemed to be an inexplicable burning in his chest but he tried to push that aside. It was probably nothing.

    “I always did,” Zelda wrapped her arms around him but he could hardly feel it. “There was never anyone else.”

    Link brushed his fingers through her hair one last time and gazed into her eyes. Those perfect, beautiful eyes. “I love you.”

    “I love you, too,” Zelda whispered as Link slumped onto the bed. “Link? Link! LINK!!!”

    Deaths: 28

    “I think that’s been my favorite life so far,” Link said as he stared down at his beloved. It hurt him, to see her panic over his dead body but there was nothing he could do about it now.

    “Didn’t feel awkward, marrying your own descendant?” Death asked, clearly amused.

    “Well, it does now,” Link replied. “But it's not like I knew that at the time. And I don’t regret it, either.”

    “Hey, and she was actually faithful to you,” Death added. “That’s a bonus, right?”

    “How many times do I have to tell you to drop it?” Link shook his head, though if he were being honest a part of him did find that remark mildly amusing. He looked back down at his Zelda one last time as Death grabbed him by the shoulder. “I will always love you.”

    “You know, you’re going to have a lot of wives by the time you finally get to move on,” Death gave a dry chuckle. “That’s going to be one awkward reunion.”

    * C * D * T *​

    The life of a shepherd in Hyrule was not an easy one. Link spent his days tending to his flocks in the fields west of Hyrule proper, making sure that they always had fresh pastures to graze from, to find any that strayed too far away and to protect them from predators and monsters alike.

    Monsters, like the pack of wolfos that were currently attacking.

    “Nayru’s Love!” Link cast a magic shield around his flock. The blue dome wasn't impenetrable but by the time the furry beasts could break through, he would have gutted them all with his trust sword and staff.

    One wolfos swiped down with its claws and Link rolled to the side before slashing at its side. The humanoid wolf let out a howl of pain as its brothers encroached. He backflipped as the two lunged, crashing into each other in a comical display before he swung his hardened oak staff down on one of their heads, crushing its skull.

    The injured wolfos he had slashed earlier jumped, and Link ducked out of the way before bringing his blade up to slice open its stomach. He tried to ignore the smell of the guts that fell on him as he turned to face the lone surviving wolfos. It circled him warily, looking for an opening.

    Or at least that's what Link wrongly assumed. What he hadn't realized was that he'd failed to finish off the first wolfos, which used the last of its strength to bite into Link’s leg while he was distracted before it succumbed to its head injury. As Link recoiled from the pain, the last wolfos lunged forward and sank its teeth into his neck.

    Deaths: 74

    Link watched in horror as the shield protecting his flock dissolved, not able to sustain itself without him to provide it with a steady flow of his magical energy. The wolfos feasted while the rest of his sheep scattered to the winds. He doubted that any of them would last for long on their own.

    “That was certainly a downer, but you can't win them all,” Death said from beside him.

    “Sometimes it feels like I can't win anything,” Link replied bitterly.

    “You defeat the incarnations of Demise without any trouble,” Death pointed out.

    “That's easy. It's just one fight every hundred years or so. It's the time between that's hard. The day-to-day tasks that always seem to wear me down.”

    “Well, perhaps next time will be easier,” Death said. “Perhaps your next life will be a nice break. The king is currently having an affair with the castle librarian. Should be a nice, quiet time for scholarly pursuits as long as nobody finds out that you're secretly the illegitimate prince.”

    “King Malphus is a fool,” Link sighed. “It’s hard to believe that man is descended from my precious Zelda.”

    “People are their own individuals, not their ancestors. Something which I'm sure that you’ve picked up on over the centuries.”

    “Let's just go.” Link pointed to where the wolfos was gorging itself on one of his sheep. “I don't feel like watching that.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Link rushed to the drawbridge leading to Castle Town, running as fast as his short child legs could carry him. A storm was brewing, which he recognized from his nightmares. And just like he’d seen in his dreams, a white horse galloped out of the city carrying two passengers, the young Princess Zelda and her attendant Impa. As they passed, Zelda turned to Link with fearful eyes and tossed something into the moat behind him.

    Pursuing the fleeing princess, the vile king of the gerudo, Ganondorf, came to a stop as he saw Link and reared his horse back. Smirking with an evil grin, Ganondorf charged a ball of dark energy in his hand and launched it at Link. The child was sent flying back and crashed back onto the ground a few feet away, knocked unconscious by the blow.

    When he awoke, he was lying face down in the grass, covered in morning dew as the sun rose overhead.

    “Link!” A familiar voice like a bell's chime sounded overhead and Link flipped himself over onto his back to see that glowing ball of blue light that was his fairy companion, Navi. “Thank goodness you're still alive!”

    Link let out a groan as he sat up, clutching at his ribs. Memories of the night before slowly returned, along with… something else, more like dreams or phantoms on the edge of his mind. This wasn't the time to dwell on that now, however. Instead, he scrambled over to the dirty moat and dug through the mud.

    He found it! The ocarina of time, a magical artifact said to have been passed down through the royal family and the key to his and the princess's plan to stop Ganondorf. She was supposed to have been the one to use it after he gathered the other items they needed but the situation had changed. The only problem was that he didn't know the song that he would need to play on it.

    Except, he did. A memory floated into his mind of Zelda teaching him the Song of Time filled his mind. No, he was the one teaching it to her? And that wasn't the princess Zelda he knew, or even himself in that memory.

    There would be time for trying to figure that out later. For now, he rushed through the busy streets of Hyrule’s capital, making his way to the Temple of Time on the outskirts of the city.

    As Link walked into the ancient chapel, he pulled out the three gemstones that he’d just scoured the land to find. The Kokiri’s Emerald, the Goron’s Ruby and the Zora’s Sapphire. He placed each one on the matching indentation on the wide pedestal that stood at one end of the main room.

    He raised the blue ocarina to his lips, never more thankful for all those lessons he’d taken with his old friend Saria, and began playing the Song of Time.

    Something was wrong. Link didn't know what it was but it was as if the world around him was broken. Like he was part of a stained glass window that someone had taken a hammer to.

    As he finished the song, he lowered the magical instrument and saw that the blue section of the wall in front of him had disappeared, revealing an entrance to a hidden chamber. He rushed inside to see a sword lodged in a pedestal. The blue, winged cross guard felt familiar. It was almost as if the sword, the Master Sword, was calling to him.

    Then all Link knew was pain. He looked down, shaking, to see the blade of a sword sticking out through his stomach. It was covered in blood. His blood.

    Deaths: 129

    Link's body fell to the floor, lifeless, as Ganondorf pulled his sword out of the boy and grabbed Navi out of the air with his open hand, crushing the fairy in his fingers.

    “I knew that following you would prove fruitful,” Ganondorf said aloud, “but I never imagined finding the entrance to the Sacred Realm.”

    A staircase of light manifested through the air, which Ganondorf began to climb. Link watched as the gerudo king entered the hiding place of the sacred Triforce. The very thing that he’d been trying to prevent from happening.

    “I believe that makes a new record for your shortest life,” Death mused. “Hopefully it stays that way.”

    “I feel… empty,” Link said, grasping at his chest.

    “That's to be expected,” Death replied with a nod of his hooded skull. “I believe that I’ve told you before of the nature of this world.”

    “That Hyrule is right on the edge of the material and spiritual planes,” Link recalled from one of their earlier conversations. “That's why our magic is so abundant here, whereas people on other worlds, or planets as you’ve called them before, generally need either a much stronger affinity or some kind of catalyst in order to use it.”

    “I see that lifetime as a scholar really stuck with you,” Death said.

    “That was one of my better lives,” Link admitted. “But I'm not sure what any of that has to do with right now.”

    “Hyrule's precarious position leaves it rather unstable,” Death explained. “If someone were to say, go back in time and try to change things without being too careful, they could potentially split the timeline into different branches that exist simultaneously alongside each other.”

    “Are you saying that's what happened?” Link asked, even more curious as to what could possibly be going on.

    “Correct,” Death confirmed. “To be more precise, after you would have taken the Master Sword, Ganondorf would have taken the Triforce without killing you and taken over Hyrule while you get stuck in the Sacred Realm for the next seven years. You then would have gone back and forth between the two points in time on a quest to defeat him and, after you finally do so, the latest Princess Zelda would have sent you back one last time so that you could live out your lost childhood.”

    “Because I haven't had enough of those.” Link rolled his eyes.

    “Yes, the main point is that she messed up the process and split Hyrule into two timelines,” Death continued. “And in the process, this third timeline that you're in was somehow made as well, in which Ganondorf slayed you before any of that could happen.”

    “He's the latest form of Demise, isn't he?” Link asked, to which Death simply nodded. “Well, there goes my perfect win streak. So, what does this timeline nonsense mean for me?”

    “This is rare but not completely unprecedented,” Death said without further elaboration. “Anyone who gets caught in a split timeline has their spirits split between the different realities. That would be why you feel so hollow, as you’re now only a third of your original self. Normally, I would simply gather the soul fragments as each version of a person as they die, piecing them together until they're whole again so that they can move on. It's annoying but they’d only spend a few years or perhaps decades split apart. Sometimes, something even happens that will merge the timelines back into one and even if that doesn't happen, any new souls born into the timelines will be separate from each other regardless of how similar they might be.”

    “But you can't gather my soul together until after I'm done reincarnating,” Link realized.

    “Correct.” Death nodded again. “Instead of waiting for the end of one Hyrule, you now have to wait for three.”

    Link sighed and shook his head. “Well, I doubt that will make much of a difference. Nothing we can do would alter how long that will take. I doubt it'll make a difference.”

    “I suppose we shall have to wait and see. Even I do not know what the future will bring.” Death moved towards the door, motioning for Link to follow. He did so, being used to moving around without a body by this point. “There is a couple in Kakariko Village right now who you’ll be born to next. Your next life will likely be a challenging one with the war that's about to break out.”

    “Didn't you just say that you don't know the future?” Link pointed out.

    “I may not know the details, for if the future were already played out that would be a violation of free will. However, when you’ve been around long enough you begin to see patterns in history and can predict things with decent accuracy. It helps that figuring out how people are going to react to a madman becoming a god is much easier than how a world will end. Though most likely by either the sun exploding or people draining the planet’s resources until there isn't enough left to sustain life anymore.”

    “Wait, the sun can blow up?”

    “Don't worry, there's no risk of that happening any time within the next few million years.”

    Link grimaced as it finally started to dawn on him how long he would be caught in this cycle.

    “Now, we best be going before we miss our mark and I have to pick out a new family for you.”

    * C * D * T *​

    The seven sages of Hyrule stood in a circle surrounding the ruins of Hyrule Castle, where Ganon stood his ground. The giant blue pig man, granted power beyond comprehension by the sacred Triforce, raised his trident as the last of Link's soldiers fell. He was now the last line of defense holding the demon king at bay. If he failed to hold him off long enough for the saged to complete their sealing ceremony then what was left of Hyrule was doomed. If he succeeded, then Hyrule would be saved while he and Ganon would be trapped in the newly renamed Dark World. Either way, he wasn't making it out of this alive, a fact that he had accepted long ago.

    Ganon took a step forward and swung his trident overhead, unleashing a wave of dark flames in the shape of a swarm of bats that seemed to come alive and dive towards General Link. He dove to the side and slashed at them with his spear. Just a humble steel blade. Link wasn't so fortunate to have magic or any legendary weapons on his side. But he didn't need any cheaps like that to fight. All he needed was his wits and determination to see himself through this.

    Link ran across the leveled arena, ducking and weaving between his fallen comrades as Ganon began throwing bolts of purple lightning at him. Even one blast would have proved fatal but he managed to always stay one step ahead until he finally reached the giant and jabbed him in the knee.

    Link's spear snapped in two without leaving so much as a scratch on Ganon. So much for that plan. Link jumped back in time to avoid a strike of Ganon’s trident as the sounds of chanting around them grew louder and the magic circle spread along the ground grew bright. Just a little while longer.

    Ganon slashed his trident to deflect the thrown shaft of Link's broken spear, aimed straight for the beast's eyes. The momentary distraction gave Link the seconds he needed to draw the sword at his hips. Again, nothing fancy. Just a practical weapon meant to get things done.

    A roar pierced the heavens as Ganon slammed the three prongs of his weapon into the ground and the earth began to quake. Link lost his footing and tripped over a crack that formed in the old pavement. Before Ganon could finish him off, however, the spell was completed and Hyrule seemed to vanish around them.

    The Dark World certainly lived up to its name. Everything Link could see seemed twisted and distorted compared to the world he knew. Like he was trapped in some kind of nightmare. He climbed up to his feet before wrenching forward again. His arms and legs twisted as hair, no, fur grew over every inch of his body. Link's form became just as twisted as his surroundings, somewhere between man and beast. But before his transformation was complete, Ganon plunged his trident forward while Link was distracted. The center prong went right through his neck, almost severing his head entirely from his body.

    Deaths: 130

    Link stared at Ganon as the giant blue pig of a demon gloated in his assumed victory. It was a sickening sight, though not as much as the decapitated lionman before him. Link could hardly recognize his own corpse.

    “What happened to me?” he wondered aloud.

    “This place is the Sacred Realm, or perhaps it could now be more accurately described as the Dark Realm,” Death explained. “This is the world of magic and the divine that your world borders, as we have discussed before. Because this place is not governed by the laws of the physical world, the body becomes a plaything of the mind. It seems that you, at least in this lifetime, had the qualities of a lion in you, just as Ganon was a boar. Thus, that is what you became.”

    “Interesting, though I suppose that hardly matters now.” Link shook his head. “At least I managed to hold out long enough. Now the big guy’s stuck here forever.”

    “For quite some time, anyway,” Death corrected him. “Nothing truly lasts forever.”

    “It will do for now, at least.” Look shook his head. “Perhaps Hyrule may be able to enjoy an era of peace after this.”

    “At least long enough for them to rebuild, at any rate.” Death pulled a lantern out of his cloak. “While the Demon King Ganon may be stuck here in the Dark World, another fragment of his soul will soon be incarnated. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to deal with him at all until the fragment that is currently sealed away as Vaati is released from the Four Sword.”

    “Is that Demise’s soul?” Link asked, gazing at the dim red flame within.

    “A part of it, yes,” Death nodded. “His soul is even more fragmented than yours and will likely only grow more and more splintered as time goes on. Only the part of him tied to his hatred and wrath is bound to this land. The rest, I sent to another world for him to live out his existence until he can be restored. In the meantime, I am bound to release parts of this fragment whenever…”

    Death trailed off, looking up at Ganon. The giant pigman stared back down, gaze fixed firmly on the lantern in his skeletal hand with a look of focused curiosity.

    “He’s not supposed to be able to see us, right?” Link asked, also looking up at the Demon King.

    “No, he is not.” Death moved his hand back and forth, watching Ganon’s eyes track its movements. “But I suggest we leave at once.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Life in Hyrule was hard but there were certain moments that made the struggle to survive worth it. For Link, those moments came from the smiles on people’s faces every time he patched a hole in their roof, fixed up their old shed or even helped build their new homes. He’d dedicated his life to the art of carpentry and always made sure to put those skills to good work. Many of the residents of the small town of Blue Maiden claimed that they wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for him.

    “I just wish that there was something that I could do,” Doctor Zumi sighed with a shake of his head.

    “It’s okay, Doc.” Link weakly reached out his arm but it quickly fell. “I lived a good life.”

    “I know but that’s why you don’t deserve to die like this!” The doctor shouted angrily as he plopped onto the seat beside Link’s bed. “I should be able to save you!”

    Link just smiled sadly at him. It had been over four years since his condition had been discovered. A sickness of the blood. He’d known ever since that fateful day when the doctor sitting next to him had first laid out his diagnoses, that his time in this world was limited. Link had sworn the doctor to secrecy, done everything he could to hide it from the others, to act like nothing was wrong.

    But now… Now, there was no denying it. No hiding it.

    It would be a miracle if he lived to see the sunrise.

    “How can you still smile at a time like this?” the doctor asked in frustration as his eyes started to well up. “You must be in so much pain right now.”

    “Like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” Link said weakly. “It feels like my body’s eating itself. But do you know how I deal with the pain? I remember the children’s faces when we built that orphanage. I remember the way Mrs. Rosy way smiled when I told her that I’d managed to fix that old chair that had been passed down through her family since before the war. Heh, I even remember the look you gave me when I accidentally took out the wrong wall in your office.”

    “Now’s hardly the time for jokes,” Doctor Zumi chastised him, though a small smile did finally cross his lips.

    “Who said I was joking?” Link asked him. “I’m serious, Zumi. This may not have been how I wanted to go, but… I’m okay with that. It’s time.”

    “You can’t just give up!” The doctor rose from his chair.

    “I’m not giving anything up, I’m just moving on to the next adventure.” Link coughed weakly. “Tell Clara… tell Clara I love her, and… goodbye.”

    Deaths: 161

    * C * D * T *​

    A storm was coming in. A bad one, from the looks of it. Link watched the dark clouds roll in across the horizon as he finished packing up his camp. Epona, his trusty companion, was starting to shift around restlessly.

    “Easy, girl.” Link placed a calming hand on the horse’s head and she started to calm down. “We’ve still got to make it over the mountain. Come on, we’ve had to have made this trip at least a hundred times by now.”

    Smuggling supplies in from Calatia may not have been easy but someone had to do it. Between the recent food shortages, the increasing frequency of monster attacks and the plague that was spreading across all the kingdoms, what remained of the once mighty province simply didn’t have what it needed to support its citizens.

    Link finished backing everything back up into his saddlebags and loaded up his surviving horse. He’d lost the other, his wagon and most of their supplies to a hinox that had ambushed them a few nights. It was a nightmare but he could only move forward and hope that he could make enough off of what he still had left to at least afford another wagon.

    Epona set off at a trot. As much as Link would have liked to have her gallop at full speed so that they could get further along before the storm reached them, that wouldn’t have been practical. It simply would have worn her out faster and then they’d be stranded in these hills.

    After riding for a few hours, the winds began to pick up, followed by the rain. They were just rounding Dead Goron’s Pass when the storm finally reached its zenith.

    “Din!” Link cursed as Epona tried to gallop into the wind. Of all the places it could have hit them, this had to have been the worst.

    With a cliff to his left and a sheer wall to his right, there was nowhere to hide and weather out the storm. All he could do was pray to the goddesses that they could hold on long enough. Just three miles before they’d reach the next cave.

    Unfortunately, Epona’s strength didn’t hold out long enough. She was a strong horse but the howling winds were stronger. As much as she struggled against it, she was pulled closer to the edge of the path and the ground underneath her hooves gave out.

    There was nothing that Link could do to save the poor girl. All he could do was grab onto the ledge as Epona fell to her death. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth as he heard her give one painful last neigh that was quickly drowned out by the storm. Link tried to pull himself up but the ground was slick from the rain and he lost his grip.

    Link tumbled down the slope until he finally managed to grab hold of a small tree growing out the side of the mountain. Any hope of safety was immediately lost, however, as a wind gust caught him and pulled him away before slamming him back into the rough rocky slope. Link coughed up blood as he summoned every ounce of determination and strength that he could but it wasn’t enough. Link lost his grip again.

    Deaths: 230

    * C * D * T *​

    The winds were picking up and the waves grew ever larger. Link’s ship tossed and turned as it was battered by the incoming storm. It wasn’t his first, though. Link’s life had been plagued with hardships ever since that fateful rainy night when his uncle died and he was left alone to save the Kingdom of Hyrule from Agahnim and his master, Ganon.

    Ever since that day, Link’s life had been one epic quest after another. Hyrule, Koholint, Holodrum, Labrynna. He’d saved so many people, made so many friends along the way and done everything that anyone could have ever wanted. And yet, everything always felt so… hollow.

    Link closed his eyes, listening to the wind. He could almost hear her voice. The siren call of the only woman he’d ever really loved. But it was just an illusion. She wasn’t really there. She never had been. He knew that and yet… he couldn’t accept it.

    “Captain, we can’t take any more of this!” one of the sailors rushed over to Link at the helm.

    “You’re right.” Link opened his eyes again and turned the ship. “We’re getting out of here.”

    Part of him wished that he had been left alone. That he could just sail into that storm. It was so inviting. He could just… let it all end. But no, other people’s lives were at stake and he would not be responsible for their deaths.

    Over twenty years of experience gave Link the skills he needed to successfully navigate the ship back to calmer seas. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save them.

    “Captain, there’s a whirlpool forming on the starboard bow!”

    Curses, that could only mean one thing.

    “Man the cannons!” Link ordered his crew. “Get ready for a fight!”

    The giant white and blue cephalopod slowly rose from the water at the center of the watery vortex, a dozen yellow eyes scattered about its body. A Big Octo.

    “Fire!”

    The cannons hit their mark, striking the Big Octo’s eyes and blinding the beast. Lashing out in pain, it slammed one of its long, mighty tentacles down onto the ship, crushing part of the hull, to say nothing of the sailors that had been there. Link tried to steer away but the current was too strong. More cannonfire bombarded the giant sea monster but it was too late. The Big Octo began sucking in massive amounts of air, taking a few of his men along with it, before firing a compressed blast into the side of the ship, tearing it open.

    They were sinking. There was nothing that he could do about it now.

    “Men, load the lifeboats!”

    “But what about you, sir?” one sailor asked.

    “I’ll do what I can to distract it while you get away.” Link saluted his crew but there was no time for them to return the act. They boarded the smaller boats as quickly as they could and prepared to escape.

    Link set his sights on the Big Octo, pulling out his old bow. It wasn’t much but he could at least keep its attention firmly on him. Without hesitating, Link fired, striking another of its eyes. The Big Octo turned its gaze to him and tried to swipe at him with its tentacle. Link jumped over it and fired another arrow.

    The battle was long and hard but eventually, the last boat had rowed safely out of the Big Octo’s range. While strong monsters, they rarely pursued any potential prey that managed to escape them. They would be fine, so long as they could make it to land or another ship, and they weren’t too far away from Holodrum at the moment. Link could finally relax.

    He was up to his knees in water, though. Not much of the ship was above the surface at this point but he didn’t bemoan his fate. Rather, he accepted it.

    “It seems this is the end.”

    Link lowered his bow as the Big Octo prepared to strike him one last time. At last, after so long, he would meet the end that he had been waiting for. The last thing he saw was a seagull curling overhead. Something about the bird just seemed… so familiar.

    Deaths: 387

    “I’m so tired,” Link muttered as the injured Big Octo retreated back into the ocean depths.

    “That’s what happens when you have to live so many lifetimes,” Death replied. “The mortal soul isn’t meant for this.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Link’s fingers danced along her back under her dress as his girlfriend dug her nails into his. The two giggled madly as their tongues volleyed against each other. It had only been a few weeks since they’d finally admitted their feelings for each other and they were still riding high on their teen romance. At last, Link slipped his hand under her dress and she began to pull up his robe. They were finally about to-

    -the closet door opened and the old witch stared down at them, clearly annoyed.

    “There you two are.” Syrup pulled her two apprentices out and pushed them back into the shop. “I know you two are young and, ugh, ’in love’ but at least try to save the hanky panky for after hours. We’ve got customers.”

    “No, we don’t,” Maple complained, pulling her dress strap back over her shoulder. “The shop’s completely empty.”

    “Yeah.” Link added. “We never get customers before noon.”

    “But we could!” Syrup wagged her finger at them. “Besides, you two need to work on your potions. Timing is just as important as any other factor when it comes to brewing.”

    “But grandma!” Maple whined.

    “No buts!” Syrup grabbed them both by the shoulders and dragged them to the line of cauldrons in the back. “Now get to work. We’re running low on Red Potions!”

    Link sighed and rolled up his sleeves. Why did his master always have to be such as spoilsport? It wasn’t like he was slacking in his studies or anything. He went over to the ingredient supplies and pulled out a few monster hearts along with a pickled lizard, before dumping them into one of the cauldrons and starting to stir. He’d done this a thousand times before and was getting kind of bored with it. What he hadn’t done a thousand times was his new girlfriend, yet.

    “I love you,” he said to the green-haired girl stirring her own pot at the other end of the room.

    “Not as much as I love you,” she giggled.

    “You sure about that?”

    The two idiot teenagers continued exchanging poor attempts at flirting until it was finally time for them could leave their pots alone to sit. Before moving on to their next batches, however, they decided to pick up where they had left off. Link lifted Maple onto a counter, knocking over various potion ingredients and charms, and she wrapped his legs tightly around his back while his lips worked their way across her neck. They didn’t even notice the bottle of powdered bomb flower that rolled off the ledge and into a pot of yesterday’s fire potion that had been left to cool.

    Deaths: 472

    Link looked around the burning remains of what had been Syrup’s potion shop. “This one was just embarrassing.”

    * C * D * T *​

    It was time for the annual Fashion Festival in the Kingdom of Hytopia, the biggest event of the year. And since their ruler, the beloved Queen Styla, was busy presiding over the festivities, that left her husband, King Consort Link, to watch over their daughter.

    “Can we go to the threadwork exhibit next?” Princess Fasha asked as she led her father down a busy street, and Link could tell just how excited she was even if it didn’t show in her voice the way it would in other girls her age. “I heard that they have a replica of one of Queen Zelda’s dresses from Hyrule.”

    “Of course,” Link said. “Hey, did I ever tell you that I’m actually from Hyrule?”

    “Yes,” she looked up at them. “That’s why we’ve got pointy ears while Mom’s and everyone else’s are round.”

    “Yep.” Link nodded. “But did I tell you that I actually got to meet Queen Zelda before I left?”

    “No.” Fasha’s eyes widened, one of the subtle cues that she was interested in something.

    “Well, she was still just a princess back then,” Link told her as they continued to walk around various colorful festival booths and displays. “That was back in my adventuring days. She was cute, but not as much as your mother.”

    “But how did she dress?” Fasha asked, wanting him to cut to the chase and get to what was, in her opinion, the most important thing. “What did she wear? How did she do her hair?”

    “I’m getting there, I’m getting there,” he assured her. He always loved how focused she could be on the things she cared about. He could tell that his little fashion designer was destined for greatness, even if she wasn’t royalty in the most fashion-forward kingdom in the land.

    Link continued to regal his daughter with tales of his old adventures and, of course, what everyone was wearing at the time. He didn’t used to pay any attention to clothing details at the time but struggling to recall those details was worth seeing how her face would light up. People who weren’t familiar with her might not notice, but he did.

    “..and then it turned out that the guy in the bunny hood was actually Lorule’s version of me.”

    Fasha led Link around a corner into an alley, only for them to both realize that they’d both taken a wrong turn.

    “This isn’t the exhibit,” Fasha pointed out and Link could tell that she was getting nervous. “This is wrong.”

    “We’ll just turn around and head back,” Link assured her.

    “You sure about that?” A trio of thugs stepped out from the shadows, blocking their path. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

    “That’s a double negative,” Fasha pointed out. “You just said that we are going somewhere.”

    The man who had spoken just looked down at her with a mix of confusion and anger. “What, no, that’s… You know what, yeah. You are going somewhere, girlie. Somewhere with us?”

    “Do you realize who you’re dealing with?” Link stepped forward and held one hand out in front of his daughter while the other reached for the sword at his waist. Unfortunately, it was just a prop. Part of the swordsman ensemble that Styla and Fasha had picked out for him. But even if it wasn’t meant for actual combat, his skills should compensate.

    “Of course we do,” another thug said. “That little princess is going to be our next meal ticket. The queen will pay a fortune for the ransom.”

    Link’s grip tightened around the golden hilt as he tried to control his anger. He could feel Fasha trembling behind him. “Leave now, without a fight, and I will forget that this ever happened.”

    “Hah, and what’s some old fogy king gonna do against us?” the third thug said. “I doubt you’ve ever even used that sword before.”

    “This sword, no.” Link shook his head and the three bandits laughed. “You clearly didn’t do your homework. But fine, if you insist on this foolish course of action, then you have signed your death warrants.”

    They laughed even harder at that but Link ignored that. Instead, he turned to his daughter and dropped to one knee as he ran his hand through her golden hair.

    “Stay out of the way and stay safe. Daddy’s going to take care of some troublemakers.” He then stood up and turned back to the thugs, drawing his sword. “When you get an opening, run and find a guard to take you to your mother. I’ll catch up. You still sow pegasus feathers into all of your outfits, right?”

    “T-they look pretty,” she confirmed. “And their magic makes it so that you can run twice as fast. The enchantments in pegasus feathers were first discovered in-”

    Link rushed forward, stabbing one of the thugs in the stomach. The dull blade wasn’t enough to cut through his clothes, let alone his flesh, but it was still enough to knock the air out of his lungs. The man fell to the ground while his compatriots scrambled to organize themselves. They clearly hadn’t been expecting Link to put up a fight.

    The tallest of the trio slashed at him with a large knife. His movements were clumsy and heavily telegraphed. Link simply grabbed his arm and twisted it, letting go of his prop sword and grabbing the man’s knife before it fell to the ground. He then punched the guy in the neck before the third thug could attack.

    Goon number three suddenly found himself unable to speak, or breathe, as his friend’s knife suddenly carved a bloody gash through his throat. Link then turned back to the second thug, who was staring at him with wide eyes. Link stepped forward but had to stop as he looked down.

    A blade was sticking out of his gut. The would-be kidnapper that he’d taken down first had managed to get back up and strike him while he was distracted. He could hear Fasha scream and knew how terrified she must be right now. So, he put on a brave face and acted like nothing was wrong. Tried to show her that the injury wasn’t as bad as it was.

    The literal backstabber received a boot to the face that broke his nose and possibly his jaw before Link pounced on the thug whose knife he was holding, sinking the blade into his shoulder.

    “Now!” Link screamed.

    Fasha hesitated but responded, running out of the alleyway. Things were about to get even bloodier than they already were and he didn’t want her to see this. Once she was out of sight, he plunged the knife repeatedly into the thug’s chest until he was sure that he wouldn’t be getting up again.

    “What in Ganon’s name?” the lone surviving criminal grumbled as he pulled himself off the ground, though Link could barely hear him. The world was growing dark. “How… what are you?”

    “A father.” Link pulled the sword out of his back, trying not to scream as he started to bleed out, then threw it so that the blade went straight through the thug’s mouth and pinned his fresh corpse to the stone wall behind him.

    Then Link collapsed. He regretted that he wouldn’t be able to see his wife again or watch his precious daughter grow up into the amazing woman that he knew she would become. But at least they’d be safe.

    As everything faded to black, he heard two loud screams.

    Deaths: 545

    Link watched in horror as Styla and Fasha both ran into the alley, crouching at his body’s side while flanked by two armored guards. They weren’t supposed to have seen this.

    “A noble, if tragic, end,” Death said as Link bent down and tried to hug his family.

    They couldn’t feel him, of course, as he was just a ghost. Though it did seem as if Fasha leaned into his embrace. That was likely just his imagination, though.

    “It’s not often that you settle outside of Hyrule. But of course, you’ll have to return when you’re reborn again.”

    “Can you at least give me a few minutes?” Link didn’t bother looking up.

    “Of course, we’re not in a hurry right now,” Death replied. “Take as much time as you need.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Business was doing poorly. Another war was brewing and resources were growing scarce. People in the small border towns just didn’t have the money to spend on traveling performers, which meant that the only hope for Link’s troop was for them to head deeper into the heart of the country in the hope that the folks there might still be able to afford the generosity that his family needed to survive.

    His granddaughters, Fira and Estel, danced around the campfire while their uncle Phyn strummed lightly at his guitar. The others had already gone to sleep for the night and Link felt that it was time for him to join them, setting down his flute. His stomach growled as he stood up with a groan and his knees creaked. He suddenly felt a rush through his head and had to sit down again. It seemed that his age had finally caught up with him.

    “Grampa, are you okay?” Estel asked, rushing to his side. Her sister soon followed suit.

    “I’m fine,” Link tried to assure them. “Just stood up too fast.”

    “You haven’t been eating,” Fira accused him.

    “What, of course I have,” Link lied.

    “No, you haven’t,” she insisted.

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Link turned his head to the side, avoiding eye contact, when his stomach decided to betray him as loudly as it could.

    “You always do this!” Estel’s voice rose in frustration. “Every time we’re low on funds, you start skipping out on meals. It’s not healthy!”

    “I don’t…” Link sighed. There was no use denying it at this point. “I’m just trying to make sure that we have enough to go around.”

    “We have enough,” Fira insisted. “And at your age, you need to be eating more than any of us.”

    “Are you saying that I’m old?” Link asked.

    “Yes,” was Fira’s honest reply. “Grampa, you need to eat to keep your health up.

    “Why don’t I scrounge up the leftovers from dinner?” Estel asked, standing back up.

    “No, no,” Link insisted. “You need that more than I do, with your son-”

    “Little Link and I are fine,” she cut him off. “I’m still producing plenty of milk for him and even if I weren’t, Bertha would be able to-”

    “Bertha just lost her daughter,” Link pointed out. “We can’t have another tragedy like that so soon. We need to get to Kakariko as fast as we can. Even if we can’t perform there, we can find other jobs. This family needs to survive.”

    “Without you?” Fira could barely contain her anger at that.

    “If that’s what it takes.”

    “I can’t accept that, Grampa,” Fira shook her head. “What would we even do without you, you’re the head of our family!”

    Link remained silent, seemingly unable to find an answer to that.

    “Grampa?” Fire asked again.”Grampa? Grandpa Link!”

    Deaths: 593

    * C * D * T *​

    Firelight danced across the cave, casting flickering shadows across the walls. It was a sight that Link was used to. He’d been on the run for as long as he could remember, ever since he was a boy. Ever since the day he killed Ganon.

    He didn’t think much of it at first. He’d killed the monster, rescued the princess, saved the day. He was still so young, so naive when he happened that he assumed that he’d get the girl and live happily ever after once his adventure was over.

    But it was never over. Ganon had more followers than Link could have possibly imagined, who were now out for his blood. Literally, as it turned out his blood was the main ingredient in the spell they planned to revive the Demon King with. From that day on, every monster in Hyrule had been on the warpath to track him down and kill him. Ever since that day, he’d had to be on the move, keep his guard up, and do everything in his power to stay alive.

    Those first few years had been the worst. It certainly didn’t help that he and the princess he had saved, Zelda, didn’t end up getting along at all. She was too busy trying to rebuild her fallen kingdom and Link had become a magnet for doom and destruction.

    His luck had turned around eventually, if ever so slightly, though. He’d been sent on another adventure, this time to break a curse on another princess of Hyrule, one who had lived a long, long time ago. He had traveled the land, found the long-lost Triforce of Courage and returned to finally awaken Zelda the First from her cursed sleep.

    It was she who was currently running her hand gently across one of the many scars lining Link’s bare chest.

    “Awake?” he asked her, combing his fingers through his hair.

    “Can’t sleep,” she mumbled. “What if I don’t wake up?”

    He pulled her in close and she buried her face in her chest. Neither of them felt like they truly belonged in this world but they had learned over the years that they each had someone who was able to accept them, scars and all, both physical and mental.

    “I’ll always be here to wake you up, no matter what.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead, then began to hum an ancient lullaby. It took a while but eventually her breathing steadied and he could tell that she had drifted off. Link himself followed suit.

    The flames had died down into dimly burning embers when Link was woken by the sound of footsteps echoing from outside the cave. He had learned to be a light sleeper and it had saved his life countless times before. He quickly shook Zelda awake and motioned for her to get dressed.

    By the time the moblin pack reached them, the couple were ready for them. Zelda fired an arrow into the first pigman’s throat and Link rushed in with his sword and shield at the ready. The moblins fell one by one until there were none left.

    Zelda collapsed to her knees, dropping her bow to the side. Link walked up and knelt beside her, wrapping her in his arms until she finally stopped shaking.

    “I’m so tired of this,” she said.

    “I know,” Link replied. “I am too. But they always manage to track me down. Maybe- maybe you should…”

    “No, I’m not leaving you’re side,” Zelda snapped. “I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, I am not leaving you no matter what happens. You’re all I have.”

    “And you’re all I have. That’s why I just want you to be safe.”

    A thunderous roar reverberated through the cavern, coming from deeper inside.

    “What was that?” Zelda asked, picking up her bow and rising to her feet.

    “That sounded like an aquamentis,” Link said as he quickly began packing up their camp. “But I haven’t seen one of those in years. It must have been sleeping here and the fighting woke it up. Quickly, we need to leave.”

    By the time they were ready to go, however, a giant green dragon with a single horn protruding from its head walked out from the inner tunnel and spotted them, letting out a roar and launching a blast of fire from its mouth. Link blocked the attack with his shield while Zelda readied her bow. She managed to shoot it in the snout but it barely seemed to notice as it stomped closer. Link ran to the side, banging his sword against the edge of his shield to draw its attention to him before dashing toward its leg.

    Zelda fired an arrow into the aquamentis’ neck and it turned to spit another fireball. Before it could, Link jumped and plunged his sword into its thigh, using his weight to drag the blade along nearly the entire length of its leg. The aquamentis let out a roar of pain only to get shot twice more by Zelda. It fell forward, which gave Link the opportunity to jump onto its head and plunge his sword through its skull, behind the horn. It gave one final roar before the life drained from its body and the aquamentis collapsed, dead.

    Link wiped the sweat from his brow before climbing down. Zelda, his love, ran up to him and the two embraced, just happy to be alive.

    That was when two more of the dragons climbed out, larger than the first. As if sensing that this was the worst possible moment for them, another pack of moblins and other monsters rushed in from outside. Link and Zelda fought valiantly but in the end, neither was able to make it out alive.

    Deaths: 662

    “Are we… dead?” Zelda asked, looking around in horror at the carnage around them. The scorched remains of her corpse lying on the ground beneath her.

    Link floated over to her and cupped Zelda’s cheek in his hand. “I’m afraid we are.”

    “So, what happens next?” she asked, clearly still trying to process it.

    “Now, you move on,” Death replied. Prompting Zelda to scream and try to run away but Link pulled her in tightly.

    “It’s okay,” he assured her. “He’s not an enemy. He’s here to escort you to whatever’s next.”

    “Oh.” Zelda shook her head. “Wait, but what about you?”

    Link gave his most recent lover a pained smile. “I promise, I’ll reach you as soon as I can but my time in this world isn’t done yet.”

    “What-what does that mean?” Zelda backed away but Link pulled her into a hug.

    “I’m sorry.”

    * C * D * T *​

    ‘There once was a kingdom called Hyrule,

    A land loved by hero and fool,

    But one day it fell,

    It all went to hell,

    Leaving nothing but a world turned cruel.’

    The northern mountains were a barren land, where few could survive. That’s what made it the ideal hideout for Link and his underlings. Some called him a thief. Others, a bandit. But to those who knew the real Link, he was the last good man in Hyrule.

    Currently, Link was double-checking the supplies that his men had ‘acquired’ in their latest raid. It was an impressive haul and it seemed that they had enough to feed a village for a month. The people of Blue Maiden would be grateful for this once he could deliver it to them. They still needed more for the other towns and villages under his protection, however. But there was a more pressing matter than that at hand.

    “I didn’t want to believe it was true.” Link hung his head and slowly reached for the sword at his back.

    “Don’t.” A man’s deep voice came behind him “I’ll finish you off before you even get a chance to draw it.”

    Link sighed and lowered his hand before turning to face his betrayer. Ganondorf, his second-in-command, stood there with his scimitar aimed squarely at Link’s chest.

    “Why?” was all that Link said, though he suspected that he already knew the answer.

    “Why?” the young man continued. “Why do you think? You could have so much power, so much strength! You can take whatever you want, whenever you want, from whoever you want! And yet you continue to squander the resources under your command by… by helping people? Complete strangers! You’re a fool, Link, and unfit to be called the King of Thieves.”

    “I never wanted to be called that,” Link replied coldly. “All I wanted was to make sure that people who needed help were able to get it. But to do so, I had to take from those with money and power. People called me a thief for it but that’s never what I set out to be.”

    “Enough with your words,” Ganondorf scowled. “They don’t mean anything. We all know that deep down, you’re just like the rest of us. You talk a big game but in the end, you’re only out for yourself. Well, now it's my turn. I’m going to take what you’ve built and make something better.”

    Link calmly closed his eyes. “Believe what you will but it will not change the truth. I only pray to the goddesses that someday you will be able to see things for what they really are and turn yourself around.”

    Link reached for his sword again but, true to Ganondorf’s word, his head bounced off the ground before the blade could leave its sheath.

    Deaths: 721

    “Yeah, well screw you, too, Demise.” Link would have spat at the lasted Ganondorf if he were able. “I’m just going to end up killing you again in my next life.”

    * C * D * T *​

    Link’s chest rose and fell with each breath as he looked up at the devastation before him. The Master Sword was gripped firmly in his hand, its blade chipped and cracked.

    “This can’t be the end,” Zelda gasped, closing her one good eye. “It just can’t be.”

    “Then what else do you call this?” Link rasped.

    The two stood atop the tower of what had once been Hyrule Castle. Now, though, it was barely a pile of rubble. Ravaged almost as badly as the land around it. Lava was bursting from the ground at random, large chunks of earth had been upturned. Even the sky itself seemed to be on fire.

    Majora cackled wildly as the moon descended from the sky. Ganon let out a mighty roar as he stomped through the remains of Kakariko Village. Even Vaati seemed to delight in the destruction he caused. And those were just three of the demons before them.

    The world was ending around them. The Triforce had already been destroyed. There was nothing either of them could do about it.

    “We have to be able to do something!” Zelda yelled in frustration. “We can’t just… we can’t just… We have to fight!”

    “I intend to.” Link placed the burnt stump that had once been his left arm on her shoulder. “But excuse me, Princess. I don’t plan on making you suffer through any more of this.”

    “Wait, what do you-”

    Zelda’s eye widened as the Master Sword pierced between her breasts. She didn’t even have time to react before her body fell off the tower, taking the blade with her.

    “Well, this is a problem.” Link looked at the blue sword handle still in his hand. “But it's not like the odds weren’t already stacked against me.”

    Link pointed the broken sword at the moon, determination in his eyes.

    “For Hyrule!”

    Deaths: 1,001

    “So that’s how a world ends,” Link mused as he watched the utter annihilation of Hyrule play out before his eyes. “I always imagined that it would be more… calm.”

    “Hello, Link.” Death said from beside him. “This happened much sooner than I was expecting. The lifetime of a world can usually be measured in billions of years, tens of thousands.”

    “But this is the end, right?” Link asked. “No more Hyrule, no more curse. I can finally move on?”

    “Not exactly.” Death turned to him. “Hyrule is gone and your curse is broken. But, there is still the matter of the other timelines.”

    “Oh, right.” Link continued to watch as the chunks of the planet drifted away from each other. It was a site unlike anything that he’d ever seen before. “But I shouldn’t have to wait too long, right? I’m sure those two are just behind us.”

    “I have good news and bad news about that,” Death said. “The good news is that thanks to more time travel shenanigans, the other two timelines ended up getting merged back into one, and the two parts of your soul with them. It was a violent process that caused a lot of devastation but the unified timeline managed to survive, so you now only have to wait for that Hyrule to meet its end.”

    “And the bad news?” Link knew that he wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear.

    “That Hyrule is perfectly fine at the moment and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”

    “Of course.” Link buried his face in his hands. “So, what, I wait in one of your lanterns for another few thousand years?”

    “I wouldn’t wish to inflict something like that on you.” Death shook his head before placing a hand on Link’s shoulder. “The wait would likely be millions of years, at least, and you’d be conscious the whole time. I would imagine that would be a torture far beyond anything you’ve endured so far, which is saying a lot.”

    “So, are you going to bring me over to that timeline to be reunited with my other self?” Link turned to the specter of Death, who by this point he long considered a friend.

    “I have another idea,” Death replied. “Two, actually, but I’ll let you choose. The first is that I send you to a cozy little world called Counter-Earth, that knows nothing of war or pestilence. You’ll continue your reincarnation cycle in peace, enjoy fishing, farming or whatever else you like while surrounded by cuddly animal people.”

    Link shuddered. “And the other?”

    “I send you to another world, one which is just as plagued by war and disaster as the one you’ve known, where a vessel awaits with only a small fragment of soul,” Death explained. “By grafting you with that fragment, you will be able to live with all of the memories and experiences you’ve gained throughout your many lifetimes. You will, in a way, be whole and in a life where immortality could be yours if you seek it. One life to live until your wait finally comes to an end.”

    Link considered those options, though neither seemed particularly appealing to him. “What is this other fragment of soul that I’d be bonded with?”

    Death stared at him coldly for a moment. Link thought for a second that he saw a faint red light glow under his cloak but quickly dismissed the idea.

    “Nothing that you need to worry about,” Death said at last. “It’s so small, you wouldn’t even notice that it’s there.”

    Link glanced at him suspiciously.

    “Alright, I think I’ve made my choice.”

    “Very good, Link. What do you choose?”

    * C * D * T *​

    Voices drifted into Link’s consciousness as he gradually woke up.

    “Chrom, we have to do something,” a girl’s voice said.

    “What do you propose we do?” a man replied.

    “I… I don’t know.”

    Link slowly opened his eyes. Everything was a blur at first but three dark silhouettes gradually came into focus.

    “I see you’re awake now,” the man whose voice he had heard before said, looking down at him.

    “Hey there!” the girl greeted cheerily.

    “There are better places to take a nap than on the ground, you know.”

    To Be Continued…

    * C * D * T *​

    Author’s Notes: Welcome to the latest entry of the Super Ridley Bros expanded universe! This one’s going to be pretty different from the adventures of Ridley and his friends, though. Not only is it mostly unconnected from the main series but it will also feature a much darker tone, with more violence and mature themes. I’m still going to try sticking to a T rating, though, so it won’t hopefully won’t be too far of a departure.

    This first chapter is by far the longest that I’ve ever written before at over 12,000 words (I think my previous record was somewhere between 8,000~9,000) and while I don’t plan on having that be the standard, I do want this story to have generally longer chapters than most of what I write. And longer chapters means more time to write them, which means that I won’t be updating this as regularly as some of my other stories. As such, I’m not going to have any sort of set schedule for this one, though I’ll try not to go too long between chapters.

    I hope this chapter didn’t drag out too much, though it wasn’t exactly intended to be a quick read. I wanted to show just how long and tedious Link’s reincarnation cycle was from his perspective. I managed to fit every playable Link from the downfall timeline in here (except Four Swords, which I initially forgot and then I couldn’t come up with anything interesting for that one) and quite a few original incarnations. The challenge was trying to keep things from being too repetitive and I hope I did a good job of making each life (and death) distinct and interesting.
     
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